Michael makes a good point. Without championships as a measure, some great players could easily slip through the cracks of time. Take, for example, a basketball player so reliable and consistent in his play that everywhere he went, his teams won. The man is a five-time champion which gives him as many rings as all-time greats like Kobe Bryant and Magic Johnson. In fact, he won four straight championships, the only non-Celtics player to do so. I’m talking, of course, about the once-a-generation talent of the incomparable… Steve Kerr? Yup, that guy.
Kerr’s statistics tell the whole story. His 6.0 career points per game were earth-shattering for a modern-era shooter, as was his almost two assists per game. His greatest skill, however, was his ability to… be on championship teams. Kerr’s championship winning prowess clearly puts him in the upper echelon of NBA players. After all, he won three more championships than Wilt Chamberlain, Tim Duncan, Ray Allen, and many other… moderately talented players. Kerr is infinitely better than Charles Barkley, who didn’t ever earn one team championship as an individual player. Obviously, he didn’t have the ability to make those around him into better basketball players by the usual great player magic. They all stayed at about their usual talent level, and because that level wasn’t good enough to win a championship, Barkley will never be considered a great player like Kerr. Heck, had Kerr won one more championship, he could easily be challenging Michael Jordan for the title of “best NBA player ever.”
But championships don’t just matter in basketball. In fact, they’re much more important in sports like football. How would we possibly know who the best team in football is without looking at who won the Super Bowl? If we don’t, we might forget how incredible the ’07-’08 Giants were and how the Patriots just didn’t quite have that “it factor” a great team needs. Up until thirty-five seconds left to go in Super Bowl XLII, we all foolishly thought that the 18-0 Patriots, who set regular season scoring records by scoring 589 points (36.8 ppg) in 16 games, were the best team in modern football history. Now, that thought is, quite frankly, absurd. Tom Brady’s record 50 touchdown passes and Randy Moss’s record 23 touchdown receptions have been long forgotten, unlike the Giants’ epic season in which they… Umm…. they…. beat the best team in modern NFL history in the Super Bowl.
There’s no room in the history books or the memory of fans for teams that don’t win championships. The Atlanta Braves, who won only one championship in the 90′s, couldn’t possibly be a great team. After all, anyone in baseball can win their division 14 years in a row. Going 2,268 games as the best team in your division is entirely meaningless. That’s why so many other teams have done it since then.
The better team during that period from 1990 to 2005 was actually the Florida Marlins, since they won two championships to the Braves’ one. No one remembers that Braves run. NL East fans were never frustrated by the Braves’ dominance, or disheartened by their teams’ inability to win a division title for a decade and a half. They remember the Marlins’ two championship seasons in 1997 and 2003, when the Marlins built temporary winners and then shipped off all of their players when they got too expensive. Everyone knows, that’s how you get to be a great team, by being terrible for long stretches then winning a championship out of the blue, not by building potentially the best starting rotation in MLB history and consistently being better than every other team in your division.
It makes sense that we as sports fans judge success by championships. It’s only natural that we ignore or forget what our eyes tell us and judge great players by how many championships they won. It’s much easier to latch on to a systematic measure of a player than it is to actually make any judgments for ourselves, and there’s never any downside to assuming that the championships always go to the best players. After all, as any good sports fan knows, the better team always wins. That’s why they play the games. We all know the saying: “Any given sunday… the better team always wins.” That is how it goes… right?